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Thunderstorms Likely Contributed To Deadly Turbulence Incident On Singapore Airlines Flight 321 

May 21, 2024

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AccuWeather Global Weather Center – May 21, 2024

 

Rapidly developing thunderstorms near the flight path of Singapore Airlines Flight 321 likely contributed to violent turbulence Tuesday that left one passenger dead and several others injured on a flight from London to Singapore.

 

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“Singapore Airlines Flight 321 was flying over the Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar at about 37,000 feet when it encountered severe turbulence. A review of satellite and lightning data along the flight path clearly shows explosive thunderstorms development close to the flight path,” said Dan DePodwin, AccuWeather’s Senior Director of Forecasting Operations. “Developing thunderstorms often have strong updrafts, a zone of upward moving air, that rises very rapidly, sometimes at more than 100 mph and can leave pilots will little time to react if it occurs directly in front of the plane. It's possible the plane encountered a situation like this which thrust the plane up in altitude, causing a severe change in altitude in a short amount of time. 

 

AccuWeather expert meteorologists say there is a history of planes encountering severe turbulence in similar situations. A Hawaiian Airlines flight in December 2022 encountered a cloud that shot up quickly in front of the plane leaving the crew with no time to avoid the updraft. Several injuries were reported on that Hawaiian Airlines flight.  

 

American Airlines Flight 242 from Seattle to John F. Kennedy Airport in July 1997 also encountered severe turbulence due to a rapidly building updraft near Billings, Montana. 

 

“The radar on commercial planes that pilots use to navigate around thunderstorms can detect precipitation. When an updraft quickly develops, it is possible that precipitation has not yet formed in that part of the cloud, which means radar does not yet show precipitation, creating a false sense of security for pilots,” said DePodwin.  

 

AccuWeather experts and climate researchers warned last July that turbulence incidents on commercial flights could become more severe and happen more frequently in the future.  

 

"These type of sudden turbulence events, along with clear air turbulence where no thunderstorms are present, are the main reason why passengers are instructed to keep their seat belt fastened while seated even when the seat belt sign is turned off,” said DePodwin.  

 

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